Can Water Chemistry cause stale beer

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galacticbrewing12

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I have been noticing that with lighter colored beers like IPAs, Pilsners, Pale Ales, etc. tend to finish with a stale/oxidized flavor. When I brew stouts and porters I don't get that taste at all. It comes through with a smooth and malty flavor without any oxidation.

My process is the same with my light beers as dark beers. I do all grain brewing with a stainless steel insulated mash tun and then fly sparge. All the drainings are drained off through a 3/8" high temp hosing and the hose goes to the bottom of my brew kettle to avoid splashing. Then after the boil I chill with a stainless steel immersion chiller and transfer to my keg using a sanitized beer siphon with the hosing that goes down to the bottom of my plastic Big Mouth Bubbler. I then siphon into a corney keg that is sanitized with Star San. At no point to I have any splashing of cooled wort so I am not sure why with lighter beers I get this stale/oxidized flavor.

I installed a water softening system last year and I am concerned that with the softer water it has impacted the water and flavor of my beer. Below was my water profile before the water softener was installed and then the "Revised Softener Water" is my current water profile.

Original Water Profile 75(Ca2) 34(Mg2) 49(Na) 120(Cl) 22(So4-2) 315 (CaCO3)
Revised Softener Water 77(Ca2) 33(Mg2) 54(Na) 147(Cl) 22(So4-2) 35 (CaCO3)

Any thoughts?
 

ajdelange

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The reason that many people start brewing stouts and porters is that their strong flavours mask many flaws such as stale or oxidized flavors. Your dark beers are probably just as oxidized as your light ones. The use of an immersion chiller suggests lots of opportunity for O2 to contact hot wort.
 
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galacticbrewing12

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The reason that many people start brewing stouts and porters is that their strong flavours mask many flaws such as stale or oxidized flavors. Your dark beers are probably just as oxidized as your light ones. The use of an immersion chiller suggests lots of opportunity for O2 to contact hot wort.
What would you suggest to avoid the oxidation then? Should I just put a lid on the new kettle while chilling or use a plate chiller? How quickly do I need to chill the wort to minimize oxidation?
 

ajdelange

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Clearly a plate chiller is going to get you a lot of protection. With the use of one of them the hot wort stays undisturbed in the kettle protected not by steam after the heat is shut off but at least by a layer of air with a high vapor pressure of water. Of course you will want to cover it with a lid while chilling is taking place.

The quicker the better! But with a plate (or coaxial) chiller it is not so critical.
 

jperro2003

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The reason that many people start brewing stouts and porters is that their strong flavours mask many flaws such as stale or oxidized flavors. Your dark beers are probably just as oxidized as your light ones. The use of an immersion chiller suggests lots of opportunity for O2 to contact hot wort.
Just for my own knowledge and curiosity, I thought that oxidation wasn’t a big concern pre-fermentation? It’s recommended to aerate the wort prior to pitching the yeast. So how can the wort become oxidized at this stage? Or am I not understanding?
 

gunhaus

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Welcome to the land of ultra obsession about O2! jperro - you are largely correct and it does not matter. Chilling with a wort chiller is more likely to cause issues with off flavors from not getting chilled quick enough, than anything related to oxidation. O2 is needed for fermentation and for most brewers this means agitation or addition with a simple bubbler of some sort. The alphabet soup and LODO crowd will no doubt chime in about the heathenish approach of allowing an actual O2 molecule to come in contact with wort and they will back it up with mind numbing science in an effort to enlighten and ridicule those of us who just want to make beer, rather than titillate the "journals" with out intellectual prowess. . I will take the low road, and point out that bazillions of gallons of perfectly fine brew are made and consumed with joy in PLAIN OLD SIMPLE SYSTEMS where occasionally an O2 molecule will be present. What's more people have been happily plugging along innocently getting a little O2 exposure here and there for about a million and a half eons. Since 1988 or so, i have made a lot of lighter beers. I made a LOT of them in buckets, and transferred them with racking canes and hoses - in fact i very often still do if the sealed systems are tied up. I do not get oxidized/flat/cardboard beers, and I have f'd up enough batches in the past few decades to damn well know what THAT tastes like. While I do prefer to do closed transfers and use a fairly sophisticated system for much of my brewing these day - i still use my coolers, canes, buckets, and old set ups on a regular basis - If it made bad beer I WOULD NOT!

Bitching aside - to the OP - the answer is YES. I have experienced it. It is not stale/oxidized though, but other characteristics that are likely giving you that opinion/sensation. Try using some RO or Distilled store bought on a batch, adjust it with the many simple guidelines on this site and see if your "stale" sensation goes away or not. Betchya it will.

This is all supposed to be about fun, not an equipment race and technology war. Smugness about technique will not help anyone sort out a solution to a problem. Very often simple common sense changes can eliminate a small issue like this one. Give the water change/substation a go - If it does not solve it all holler and we can trouble shoot some more.
 

ajdelange

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Just for my own knowledge and curiosity, I thought that oxidation wasn’t a big concern pre-fermentation?
It is generally considered detrimental to expose HOT wort to oxygen/air. This is a bigger concern than it used to be. When I visited the Pilsner Urquel brewery many years back the beer came splashing out of the lauter tun into a 'sink' through a multiplicity of faucets. This would not he done in a modern brewery. I visited one (on a much smaller scale) more recently that used a Steele's masher but had the whole thing an the mash tun shrouded with the shroud pressurized (just slightly) with CO2 to protect the grist from the time it hit water on from O2.

Some beers are still made today with exposure to air at levels that would be anathema to the modern brewer. Lambics are cooled in coolships open to the night air thus exposing them not only to oxygen but all sorts of wild bugs. Would we have them any other way?

BTW I advocated cooling as quickly as possible. That is indeed advantageous if an immersion chiller is used as it shortens air exposure time but it is also important in that it minimizes DMS formation.

So how can the wort become oxidized at this stage?
It can't. As is the case with many chemical reactions the speed with which the oxidized species form depends dramatically on temperature. Cold wort can be safely exposed to air for much longer that hot wort. [/QUOTE]

It’s recommended to aerate the wort prior to pitching the yeast.
It is indeed and it is generally considered best practice to deny the beer any further exposure to oxygen beyond that point until it hits the drinker's glass. However, in some British brewing, which, when I called it 'eccentric' raised some eyebrows, the beer is 'dropped' at which time (mid fermentation) it is exposed to the air.

When you say you thought that air wasn't a big concern pre fermentation it implies that you consider it to be a big (or bigger) problem post fermentation and it is. That's why brewers focus so much on keeping oxygen out of their packages. The reason commercial brewers do this is because they have the conflicting requirements of sparkling beer and long shelf life. This means that yeast must be removed before packaging while, at the same time, yeast are the brewers best defence against the staling caused by oxygen incursion.

Battling oxygen on both the hot and cold sides definitely has its rewards. I am able to enjoy beers that I kegged more than two years ago.
 

gunhaus

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AJ - In your original reply, you implied that BECAUSE the OP was using an immersion chiller he was unnecessarily exposing his beer to O2. There was also the not so veiled insinuation that he was unable to taste/understand the difference - this being why he could not notice it in his dark beers - SO be it.

My question is how do we mere mortal brewers with limited facilities and plain old - ya know, brew pots keep O2 from touching our wort! At least in my big old brew pot there is a great big huge arsed wide open top that i stare into mesmerized while the stuff bubbles round. Somehow i gotta get that glorious goo from the big open pot into a fermenter, and at a temp that prevents those icky flavors that can happen if I DON'T cool it down with a nasty but affordable immersion chiller. I do not see how i can have that open pot evaporating away nicely and somewhat necessarily without all that O2 we depend on not to pass out while brewing from reaching that vulnerable surface? And then - with our lifeless unsophisticated palates how would we ever be able to tell if the O2 demons had infested it all anyway?

But That i fear is not the issue at hand- instead, the op was curious if his softened water could affect the flavor of his light beers and cause at least a seeming sense of staleness, and once again i say hell ya! Because I have had it happen. That's all.

BTW - I am sipping a beer that was put to bed, according to the toe tag on the keg, on 12-2-15 So it has just recently passed its 2nd birthday. I cooked it in a pot. I fermented it in a plastic big mouth bubbler! and i stored it in a corny. It tastes pretty good. And I am not getting cardboard or the heebie jeebies from it. But then it is a Guinness Export clone, so I probably can't taste that it is spoiled as hell! Thank God!!!! Hate for that to happen on a Holy Day.
 

ajdelange

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There was also the not so veiled insinuation that he was unable to taste/understand the difference - this being why he could not notice it in his dark beers
It wasn't intended to be insinuation at all but rather a simple declaration of the well known fact that the strong flavors of stouts/porters mask many brewing errors such as oxidation which make them a good place for beginning brewers to start.
- SO be it.
So indeed it is.

My question is how do we mere mortal brewers with limited facilities and plain old - ya know, brew pots keep O2 from touching our wort!
You can't and neither can the high end megabrewers. The best we can do is minimize it and that is what we strive to do.
I do not see how i can have that open pot evaporating away nicely and somewhat necessarily without all that O2 we depend on not to pass out while brewing from reaching that vulnerable surface?
As the temperature of the wort rises in the kettle the vapor pressure of water is rising as well so the partial pressure of O2 over the wort is decreasing. Once ebullition has begun the partial pressure of oxygen has decreased to 0. You are protected. During cooling the the reverse take place but it is clear that if you can get the wort out of there before it has a chance to cool much you will have more protection. This assumes a plate chiller as clearly jigging an immersion chiller around in there is going to disturb the protective layer. If you must use an immersion chiller then a strategy might be to leave it in place and stir as gently as possible with a spoon. Obviously, run as much of the coldest water that you can.


And then - with our lifeless unsophisticated palates how would we ever be able to tell if the O2 demons had infested it all anyway?
I have no concept as to what your palate may or may not be but people with normal palates, or at least those that have had some training in tasting such as that undertaken in preparation for the BJCP exam should be able to tell the difference.

But That i fear is not the issue at hand- instead, the op was curious if his softened water could affect the flavor of his light beers and cause at least a seeming sense of staleness, and once again i say hell ya! Because I have had it happen.
My answer to the original post implied that the poster should look elsewhere for the source of his stale/oxidized flavors. For those who need simple declarative statements: no, the mash water will not cause these flavors. Because the use of a water softener cannot cause hot side oxidation I did not comment on the particular water described in the OP. While it is implied that the 'original' water came directly out of a water softener it clearly didn't, or not one that is working properly, as it contains 3.75 mEq/L Ca++ and 2.1 mEq/L Na+. Were this water run through a softener it would contain only a small fraction of an mEq/L Ca++ and the sodium would be close to 5.85 mEq/L. The 'revised softened' profile isn't softened at all. It is ostensibly simple decarbonated but there is something funny here. Without doing calculations to see of either of those profiles balance I can see that about 5.7 mEq/L alkalinity has disappeared and that only about 2/3 of a mEq/L has appeared to replace it. Otherwise the revised profile is fine for many beers.

BTW - I am sipping a beer that was put to bed, according to the toe tag on the keg, on 12-2-15 So it has just recently passed its 2nd birthday. I cooked it in a pot. I fermented it in a plastic big mouth bubbler! and i stored it in a corny. It tastes pretty good. And I am not getting cardboard or the heebie jeebies from it. But then it is a Guinness Export clone, so I probably can't taste that it is spoiled as hell!
No, probably not. If it resembles the Phoenix (Quatre Bournes, Mauritius) version (licensed by Guiness) it is pushing 9% ABV and thick as molasses (obvious exaggeration there). And maybe it isn't spoiled at all. As I mentioned in an earlier posts beers are still made in which there is hot side aeration. There is a lot of debate on this subject with some feeling that HSA is as much of a hoax as global warming and others being equally fanatical that a picogram of oxygen in a hectolitre of wort will ruin a beer. In any case, you freely recognize that you can't taste the staling which is sure to be there probably as much because of casual cold side handling as hot, OP probably couldn't either and I'm sure I couldn't.

To be clear on the bottom line. OP need have no fear that his new water treatment is responsible for the staleness of his beer. OP should look elsewhere for the cause - not only on the hot side but on the cold side as well.

There is one way in which water can result in beer staling and that is where finished beer is diluted with water containing oxygen. For example a brewery may produce its 12 °P beer by brewing a 16 °P beer and then diluting it to 12 °P at packaging. The dilution water must be as oxygen free as it can possibly be or early onset staling will occur. And I suppose this extends to water used for makeup of water lost during decoctions and in the kettle. In these latter cases it is usually simple enough to run the temperature in the HLT up to boiling in order to obtain some nearly DO free water.
 
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cire

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Neither of the profiles balance, the supposedly softened less so than the originating.
 
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galacticbrewing12

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So after conferring with a professional brewer friend of mind who tasted my beer he indicated that it was more of a diacetyl flavor than anything. May need to aerated the wort more prior to primary fermentation and try to minimize the amount of oxygen exposure after fermentation is complete.
 

ajdelange

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Some diacetyl is a normal byproduct of yeast metabolism. It results when they need valine. A byproduct of its synthesis is alpha-acetolactate. When that gets oxidized diacetyl is produced. Yeast will reduce diacetyl to relatively flavorless/odorless acetoin. A healthy yeast is, of course, required to do this hence you friend's advice to oxygenate them well just after pitching. The real problem is when acetolatate makes it into the package, the yeast have been removed and the beer is in other than reduced state. Yeast will keep it in a reduced state so a sure fire way to keep diacetyl under control is to keep the beer on yeast. This is easy to do, obviously, in kegs that sit undisturbed in the cooler until they are finished and more of a problem if it is desired to bottle or remove a keg for a party or whatever. In the latter case one simply (OK, it isn't simple - it's a PITA) decants what he needs for the occasion at hand. The problem is, of course, mitigated by keeping the beer in a reduced state. This obviously means scrupulously protecting it from oxygen once fermentation is complete but it also means that it is in a reduced state going into fermentation. The theory behind HSA is that when hot mash/wort is exposed to O2 chemical species lose electrons to the O2. Many of these oxidized compounds then go on through the rest of the process to wind up in the finished beer where, if they can't get electrons from yeast, will take them from something else like alpha acetolactate resulting in diacetyl. Thus LDO (and other) brewers do everything they can to keep their mash/wort in a reduced state such as keeping the mash under an inert gas blanket from hydration on to adding a reducing agent (metabisulfite salt) to the kettle.

The other obvious approach is to see to it that little aceto lactate makes it into the package. Many brewers use a 'diacetyl rest' in lager brewing in which the temperature is raised when the ferment is within a couple of °P of terminal gravity thus accelerating conversion of acetolactate to diacetyl while there are active yeast there to gobble it up and convert it to harmless acetoin. The conversion of acetolatate to acetoin takes place in the lagering tun too but it obviously takes much longer. A simple test to see if one has been successful is to warm a sample of the beer exposed to air. If there is appreciable acetolactate it will quickly oxidize to diacetyl which can be smelled.

Another obvious technique for diacetyl control is the use of valine rich wort. But if you go to your LHBS and say "Morning Fred. I need a bag of high valine malt" you are more likely to get a blank stare than what you just asked for.

Today's brewer can buy the enzyme acetolactate decarboxylase. As the name suggests this strips carbon dioxide out of alpha aceto lactate thus converting directly to acetoin and short circuiting diacetyl production.

There is another source of diacetyl production in beer and that is infection. Certain spoilage bacteria (e.g. pediococcus) produce lots of it so check on your sanitation practices as well as oxygen protection.

Finally we should note that diacetyl at or near threshold is an important part of the flavor profile of many lagers.
 

redbone

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I feel as if I'm seeing some misinformation here. Also, wasn't there even something about HSA being debunked?

The hotter a liquid is, the less soluble air is into it. Not the opposite. For example, this is why less co2 pressure is needed at cold(er) temperatures to carbonate than at higher ones. This is also the reason that farm ponds can kill fish on extremely hot days where o2 gasses out from solution.... it's not the hot water that kills them. This is also the same reason that winter is rough on barrel aged beer where it might go acetic due to increased o2 ingress.

I wish I could find that HSA experiment a few years ago that debunked it. It was a test on a light beer where they split the batch and cooled them differently. There was no discernible difference in the final products is what I recall the findings to be.

After fermentation, always be careful moving beer around. Do what you can, where you can.

I'd suspect spoilage in my experience. Replace your beer lines and get really clean/sanitary. My last issue where I suspected oxidized beer was problems in my beer line. I replaced them and instantly was relived. I always got that oxidized taste on my first pour, a quick pour after didn't give it to me. 30 minutes later though... i got it again.
 

probablynotnick

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Pulling from what redbone said about beer lines themselves being a source of spoilage and/or oxidation, do you all use teflon tape on threaded beer line or gas line connections? I don't seem to have any noticeable leaks from my lines, but wonder if the threads could also be a source for air leakage/staling. It seem likely that O2 could ingress into the liquid line once CO2 has degassed.

A simple solution would be to disconnect the lines from the keg, but I'm curious especially as they make "barrier" lines now
 

LKABrewer

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I feel as if I'm seeing some misinformation here. Also, wasn't there even something about HSA being debunked?

The hotter a liquid is, the less soluble air is into it. Not the opposite. For example, this is why less co2 pressure is needed at cold(er) temperatures to carbonate than at higher ones. This is also the reason that farm ponds can kill fish on extremely hot days where o2 gasses out from solution.... it's not the hot water that kills them. This is also the same reason that winter is rough on barrel aged beer where it might go acetic due to increased o2 ingress.

I wish I could find that HSA experiment a few years ago that debunked it. It was a test on a light beer where they split the batch and cooled them differently. There was no discernible difference in the final products is what I recall the findings to be.

After fermentation, always be careful moving beer around. Do what you can, where you can.

I'd suspect spoilage in my experience. Replace your beer lines and get really clean/sanitary. My last issue where I suspected oxidized beer was problems in my beer line. I replaced them and instantly was relived. I always got that oxidized taste on my first pour, a quick pour after didn't give it to me. 30 minutes later though... i got it again.
You are confusing dissolved oxygen and oxidation. With hot wort you will have less dissolved oxygen, but oxidation of the malt compounds happen faster.
 

redbone

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You are confusing dissolved oxygen and oxidation. With hot wort you will have less dissolved oxygen, but oxidation of the malt compounds happen faster.
At what temperature ranges does this oxidation occur?
 

mabrungard

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Unfortunately, the Brulosophy experiment with HSA was terribly flawed. They compared the result of oxidized wort with the result of purposely-oxidized wort and unsurprisingly found no difference. The measures to achieve unoxidized or lightly oxidized wort are extraordinary and most brewers are not likely to achieve them. It took many process and handling changes in my brewing system to produce meaningful differences in my brewing results.

In my opinion, HSA is NOT an issue for most brewing since the flavor of the HSA oxidized wort is acceptable in those styles. I find that HSA does have an impact in styles that focus on light, delicate, and fresh malt flavors. Many of the German lager styles fit that description. I guess I'll continue using those HSA control measures for those German styles, but I'm about to skip that effort for other styles since it doesn't seem to be worthwhile (meaningful taste difference) for the effort.
 

ajdelange

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